Elevate Difference

Freak Nation: A Field Guide to 101 of the Most Odd, Extreme, and Outrageous American Subcultures

As the subheading states, Freak Nation is truly a field guide to American subcultures. Its format presents each group as if it were a species of bird in a bird-watching guide. For instance, you can learn where they are typically found, what their most distinctive trait is, and how to recognize one in “the wild.” Much of this humorous book plays upon stereotypes and pokes generous fun at these subcultures and what makes them so, well, fascinating.

The subcultures are divided into the following categories: collectibles, fashion, art, food and drink, lifestyles, music, sports and games, pastimes and careers, politics, sex, society, and technology. It’s a bit difficult to determine what criteria the author used in selecting these categories and deciding whish group should be placed in each. I would argue that a great many of them would fall under the general heading of lifestyle. The entire “food and drink” section, for example, certainly qualifies as a lifestyle (i.e., vegans, macrobioticists, etc.). “Pastimes and careers” is another general heading that could include all of the sports players and fans, as well as the tattoo artists and slam poets. Qualms about categorizations aside, a great many of Stevens’ vivid descriptions had me guffawing and thinking of friends and acquaintances that perfectly fit into the various stereotypes.

Although many of these groups were already familiar to me, there were a few that were completely new or foreign to me. For instance, I had never heard of Bilderbergers, or major political and business figures from the U.S. and Europe that meet for an annual hush-hush conference. I was also unfamiliar with Bennies, who are apparently people that spend their summers at New Jersey beaches. The name BENNY is an acronym of the places from which these people hail: Bayonne, Elizabeth, Newark, and New York. Even if you do already know all about these various subcultures and groups, this book still makes for a fun, tongue-in-cheek guide to some of the more extreme and adventurous members of our society.

Written by: Shana Mattson, February 26th 2011

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